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Scott Brown slams the president, Jeanne Shaheen on Ebola

Republican candidate for the United States Senate Scott Brown speaks at a campaign rally at Gilchrist Metal Fabricating in Hudson, New Hampshire October 15, 2014.

REUTERS

The government's handling of the Ebola virus became a political football during Thursday's New Hampshire senate debate, with Republican candidate Scott Brown accusing the president of bungling the response to the virus and Sen. Jeanne Shaheen accusing Brown of "fear-mongering."

Brown drew attention to the latest case of Ebola, diagnosed Thursday in New York City, saying the doctor who contracted the virus should have been quarantined earlier than he was.

"He should have known better," Brown said, according to CNN, which sponsored the debate along with WBIN-TV.

The doctor, Craig Spencer, is a member of Doctors Without Borders who'd previously worked in West Africa to contain the spread of the virus at its source. His diagnosis was unconfirmed at the start of the debate, though the potential case had already been reported. By the time the debate ended, Spencer's diagnosis had been confirmed.

Doctors Without Borders emphasized after the diagnosis that Spencer had been "engaged in regular health monitoring" and reported his symptoms "immediately," and New York officials stressed that there was no need for average city residents to worry about exposure.

Brown criticized President Obama's appointment of Ron Klain as the government's Ebola response coordinator, saying Klain had "no experience" in the field.

He also expanded on an earlier assertion that the public would have nothing to fear from Ebola if Mitt Romney had been elected president in 2012.

"Had he been president, I feel he would have had a clear and concise plan," Brown said. "He would have reassured the American people."

Brown linked the Ebola crisis to the debate over border security, accusing Obama - and by complicity, Shaheen - of failing to secure America's southern border and potentially exposing the U.S. to a variety of threats as a result.

"The clearest pathway to bring anything, whether it's criminals, terrorists or disease, is through that Southern border," he said, according to the Concord Monitor.

Shaheen, for her part, pointed out Brown's opposition to a comprehensive immigration reform bill that would have devoted significantly more resources to border security, and she criticized Brown for "fear-mongering about this issue."

Brown shot back, "She calls it fear-mongering; I call it rational fear."

He accused Shaheen of "flip-flopping" on the question of a ban on air travel from Ebola-stricken nations when she seemed to open the door to that proposal after previously shooting it down.

"I'm in the camp of, let's do what's going to work based on what we're hearing from medical experts and emergency response," Shaheen said. "If the experts tell us that that's what we need to do and that's workable, I think that's what we should support. But I'm not willing to tell the experts that this is what we need to do."

The two candidates even disagreed on the international response to the virus, with Brown criticizing the president for putting American troops "in harm's way" by deploying them to West Africa, where the outbreak continues to rage.

Shaheen, though, said the deployment was a necessary step to fight Ebola "where it exists."

While the U.S. has seen only a handful of Ebola cases, and one fatality, the outbreak has claimed almost 5,000 lives in West Africa, according to official tallies. Experts caution the actual number could be much higher.

Brown, who formerly served as a senator from Massachusetts, has managed to keep the New Hampshire race competitive despite a strong opponent in Shaheen, an incumbent senator and former governor of the state. The two are locked in a tight race, with most public surveys reflecting a lead for the Democrat. A CBS News/New York Times analysis released earlier this month found Shaheen up, 48 to 41 percent. Republicans need a net gain of six seats on Election Day to seize the Senate majority in the next Congress.